Cinematic Painting: Time in Liu Xiaodong’s Hotbed No.1 and Three Gorges Dam

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Yutong Shi


Liu Xiaodong is a Chinese oil painter who is best known for his depiction of ordinary people in their actual lived reality. At the same time, Liu’s engagement with film production has been widely recognized by public. However, the exact way that Liu has incorporated the structures of film into his painting has not been thoroughly analyzed. In this essay, I focus on Liu’s monumental work Hotbed No.1 from 2005, a multi-panel painting that is part of his series of Three Gorges Dam. Liu addresses the environmental problems that the Three Gorges Dam created by focusing on its human cost, rather than entirely on the degradation of the place itself. I argue that the most striking innovation of Hotbed No.1 lies in its rendition of the passage of time, which creates what I call a “cinematic painting.” It is significant because the incorporation of temporality enables Liu to depict the progressive harm and loss experienced by those living in proximity to the Three Gorges Dam. By introducing a durational component into his work, Liu effectively shows the complexities of depicting human suffering. Furthermore, it enables Liu to document the processes of dissolution and disappearance caused by the dam’s construction.

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